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That can be raised with Ministers in the Department for Transport; no doubt the hon. Gentleman has done so. Highways, particularly the ones that he mentioned, are a huge issue in the south-west. That is partly why it is important that we come forward with our proposals for regional committees of this House. If
the Highways Agency, regional development agencies, the Learning and Skills Council and regional organisations are making decisions that are hugely important to a region, we must have proper accountability to this House. I hope that in future south-west regional MPs will be able to hold the Highways Agency properly to account for what it does in their region as well as ensuring that Transport Ministers hold the Highways Agency to account nationally.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Yesterday, there was a very good debate in Westminster Hall on the Royal Mail and the Post Office. If we had known then what we know today about the views of Mr. Stapleton from Postcomm, there would have been universal condemnation from Labour Members, at least. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider having a debate on the role of regulators and whether they should initiate policy, particularly in such a sensitive area as the Post Office, and is not this so important that we should have it as a matter of urgency?
Ms Harman: I will refer my hon. Friends point to the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, who will no doubt have seen and taken seriously the points made in that debate.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May we have an early debate next week entitled, Consideration of Bills in Public Bill Committees? The right hon. and learned Lady will know that I am serving on the Committee that is considering the Counter-Terrorism Bill. Does she agree that parliamentary scrutiny of Bills is essential? In that context, is it not profoundly wrong that Government Whips should confine membership of the Committee to those who agree with them? Furthermore, is it not wrong that they dissuade Labour Back Benchers from participating in the debate and instead ask them merely to attend to their private correspondence? That surely undermines the highly important process of parliamentary scrutiny.
Ms Harman: We want the process of parliamentary scrutiny to be improved. That is why we are publishing the draft legislative programme, why more Bills are published in draft, and why we have the Public Bill Committee process. The question of who serves on a Committee is for the Committee of Selection, and the proceedings of that Committee are a matter for its Chair.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend bring to the House details of the funding of the parliamentary research unit in order that we may have a proper debate on state funding of political parties and add to the information that will be coming out in the next four weeks, as required, on shadow Cabinet members, who now have to reveal the full details of the private, hidden funding that has been secretly funding their offices over the past year?
I think that my hon. Friend refers, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), to the report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Conduct of Mr George Osborne. I thank the Committee for its report, in which it accepts the conclusions of the Parliamentary Commissioner for
Standards. There is no further action for this House if the commissioners conclusions, as endorsed by the Committee, are accepted.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I want to return to the National Insurance Contributions Bill, which rightly seeks to align the level of national insurance contributions with the level of taxation that people pay. Does not the Leader of the House understand the implications of the previous questions? There is likely to be a black hole as a result of the Chancellors statement on the 10p tax rate and raising the threshold at which some people pay tax. He has bungled again, and we need to have him back at the Dispatch Box to explain himself. There is a genuine problem, and I urge her to look at it much more carefully than the cavalier approach she has taken so far.
Ms Harman: I am certain that the Treasury would have taken those issues into account in their decision. Notwithstanding that, I shall raise with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the points that the shadow Leader of the House and the right hon. Gentleman made.
[That this House notes that 16th to 17th May marks the 65th anniversary of the raid on the Ruhr dams by 617 Squadron RAF (The Dambusters); pays tribute to the extraordinary heroism and skill of the crews, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC, and to the ingenuity of Dr Barnes Wallis who designed the bomb; regrets that of the 133 men who took part in the raid, 53 gave their lives on that mission; and supports the Bomber Command Association in its campaign for the erection of a suitable memorial to commemorate those who served in Bomber Command and their contribution to the eventual liberation of Europe.]
It reminds hon. Members that tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, undertaken by Squadron 617, which flew out of Lincolnshire. As one of 11 Lincolnshire Members of Parliament and a born and bred yellow belly, I urge all hon. Members to sign the early-day motion. Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for the Ministry of Defence to make a statement about when a memorial will be erected to commemorate the actions of those brave and heroic men?
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): If there is no conflict of interest, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or debate next week on the Prime Ministers intention to remove ministerial severance pay?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman knows that, before the debate in the House on 24 January, the Senior Salaries Review Body made some proposals about withdrawing severance pay if a Minister got another job before the period for which it was to be paid had elapsed. The House agreed, and we said that we planned to implement the proposals, which would claw back severance pay. We intend to do that.
May we have a debate on ring-fencing for local government funding? I am sure that all hon. Members welcomed the recent announcement of more than £4.5 million of extra funding to allow pupils from every school in the UK to visit the former concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland. Unfortunately, the Scottish Executive have refused to ring-fence those moneys, which would guarantee that pupils from every Scottish school could participate in those visits. Such a debate would allow us to expose the Scottish National partys lack of support for life-changing visits.
Ms Harman: Several hon. Members have just returned from visiting Auschwitz, and they felt that it was important. Given that it is so important to understand the international lessons of history, several hon. Members have been incredulous that the Scottish National party should take such a narrow-minded, introverted view and prevent young people from having those opportunities, especially when the money has already been made available.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Given that there will be even more post office closures, is not it time we had an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on plans for the post office network? It has been announced that two more post offices in Putney will close, ignoring my constituents concerns. After the local election results, the Government said that they would start listening. Is not it time for the Secretary of State to come to the Chamber and start listening to representatives who reflect the views of millions of Londoners and millions of people throughout the country, who are devastated by post office closures in their communities?
Ms Harman: All hon. Members are concerned about the post office network and, since 1997, we have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in it. Under the Conservative Government, there was no public subsidy to the network, but we have made the investment. The hon. Lady should say where she believes that the money would come fromwhat taxes would increase or services would be cutto finance the investment in the post office network for which she calls.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May we have an opportunity to question the Information Commissioner in person about his determinationinsane in the current security environmentto make Members of Parliament disclose their private home addresses?
[That this House deplores the transfer by Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea of Mr Simon Mann after nearly five years in gaol, in contravention of assurances given to the UK Government that this would not occur while his
appeal process was still underway; is appalled that he has been held in shackles in Black Beach Prison ever since; condemns the continuing refusal to grant United Kingdom consular access to him since a single visit in March; and urges the Government to seek the support of the United States and other influential countries to safeguard Mr Mann's human rights in this perilous situation.]
More than 100 hon. Members have signed it and some of the most senior Back Benchers from all parties, including a former Labour party chairman, have sponsored it. It is about the fate of my constituent, Mr. Simon Mann, to whom consular access has been denied since his enforced appearance in a television interview on Channel 4, in which he was obliged to incriminate himself before a trial, which appears to have been put off sine die.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman and several of his hon. Friends have raised the matter of Simon Mann, which is of concern to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I will bring the hon. Gentlemans concern to its attention again and, if any more information is available, I shall ensure that he gets it. I hope that he will let either me or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office know about any further proposals, and action can be taken on them.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Information Commissioner. Hon. Members know that requests have been made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for the home addresses of Members who have homes in London, where they stay when they are away from their constituencies. They must have a home in London for when the House is sitting. Journalists have made freedom of information requests for the publication of hon. Members addresses in London, where they are often far away from their families, living on their own. There are security considerations and the hon. Gentleman will know that the information has been refused. The information tribunals decision that the addresses should be made available has been appealed against and is now before the High Court. I will not therefore say anything further except that the High Court is considering the matter because an appeal was made on the basis that the decisions would breach hon. Members security. The point is that, when we come to the House, we need to be able to speak about all sorts of controversial matters, for example, animal rights extremism
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con):
Will the Leader of the House ensure that Departments answer ordinary written questions in a reasonable time? Some time ago, I tabled two questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government. One simply asked whether it would place in the Library the transcript of the conference call between the Minister for Housing and 16 hon. Members about future proposals on eco-towns. It was a straightforward question. My second question asked what proportion of the Western Otmoor proposed eco-town was in the green belt. I have not received an answer to either question yet. It may be that the Minister for Housing undertook in the conference call that no eco-town
would be built in the green belt, and 25 per cent. of Western Otmoor is clearly in the Oxford green belt. However, the fact that answers are inconvenient to Ministers is not a reason for not providing timely answers to written questions.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on poverty? Despite the Governments handbrake U-turn on the 10p tax rate, the lowest paid and poorest in society will remain worse off as a result of the changes. Will not 2008 go down as the year that Labour abandoned the poor?
Ms Harman: I believe that the Opposition had scheduled a debate on pensioner poverty for Wednesday and it was replaced by a debate on Burma, which was important. I will bear the hon. Gentlemans points in mind. He knows that the Government have kept tackling poverty at the forefront of our agenda. That is why we want everybody to be able to be in work, and believe that there should be a minimum wage, tax credits and targets for ending child poverty and pensioner poverty. We have made progress on all those aims. Given that the Opposition opposed us on all those issues, it is good that, instead of being a drag anchor of opposition, they are now belatedly backing our objectives.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con):
The Leader of the House mentioned the importance of history. May we, therefore, have a debate on the world heritage site at Saltaire in my constituency? The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently said that the Saltaire village was built by Sir Titus Salt as an act of self-aggrandisement. Many people in my area found that rather offensive, and are very proud of what Sir
Titus Salt built in Saltaire. Perhaps a debate would allow the Secretary of State to understand what a fine man he was.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman could raise that matter in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, but I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): May I take the Leader of the House back to the glorious years of Prime Minister Blair? She will recall that he said that nobody would have to wait more than six months for an NHS operation. Yesterday, the Healthcare Commission published its annual report on the health of the nation. In my local hospital, more than 25 per cent. of patients reported that they have to wait more than six months for an operation. May we have a debate on the difference between what the Government say and the reality in the health service?
Ms Harman: The Healthcare Commission has produced its findings, and I would like to thank the commission for its important work. The findings show that more than 90 per cent. of patients report that their care in NHS hospitals was either good or excellent. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not remember what I certainly do: in my constituency advice surgery, people used to come in and literally break down in tears because they were waiting for a hip replacement. Sometimes they would have to wait for one or two years. I also remember the consultant in the local hospital pointing out the number of people who died while waiting for cardiac surgery. We have targets to reduce waiting lists; the Opposition said that they would abolish all central targets. We want to make more progress, and with the extra investment we have put into the NHS that progress is possible. It certainly would not be possible with the public service cuts that would come about under the Oppositions proposals.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Two reports have been made available to the House this week from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. If the Leader of the House is going to refer to them in obviously pre-planted questions from Labour Members, it is right that she should fairly reflect what the report says. I would like to draw your attention to paragraph 79, where the commissioner says:
I do not believe it would be fair or reasonable to criticise Mr. Osborne as a result.
The Opposition Chief Whips office took the right action in consulting the registrar and acted in good faith in interpreting the guidance which they believed they had received.
Mr. Speaker: I am going to give a ruling on the matter. The Opposition Chief Whip has put the matter correctly, and I am going to close this matter down. The statement of the Leader of the House should be about the business for the next week, and perhaps the following week. I do give leeway at times because hon. Members may want to raise important issues, but it looks as though I shall have to make things tighter because such matters should not be brought before the House at business questions. There are other opportunities to do so.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My recollection is that when an hon. Member wishes to criticise another hon. Member, it is the practice to inform the hon. Member that a criticism is about to be made. That is my understanding of the practice. If I am right, Mr. Speaker, would it be possible for you to reaffirm that rule?
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